Not a day goes by in our local newspaper that there isn’t a letter to the editor blaming people who are facing economic hardship in America because they simply refuse to get a job. And any job will do, says a recent “letter to the editor.”
Any job? Does “any job” mean that regardless of your income from that job you’ll be able to avoid poverty? Does “any job” mean that one can simply find ANY job in the first place? Does “any job” mean everyone who is struggling to stay afloat, literally, has the physical and emotional capacity to work at ANY job, even jobs that pay minimum wage, with no benefits, and which do not provide reasonable job security?
Yes, “get a job” has been the mantra for those who still care to rationalize the massive downsizing and outsourcing that has eliminated hundreds of thousands of jobs in the U.S. since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980. It stretches the imagination to believe there are “always” good jobs, even not so good jobs readily available. Schools, too, are downsizing, preferring on-line courses to real live teachers in the classroom.
The “get a job” advice has replaced the old “go back to Russia” advice directed at those who were critical of the Vietnam and the Cold War. Neither admonition makes any sense, of course. But these dicta have served to eliminate the cognitive dissonance of those who believe America has been and will always be the land of opportunity where virtually anybody can find a “decent job.”
Blaming the victim has usually been the easiest way to deal with social problems. William Ryan in his book, “Blaming the Victim,” pointed this out years ago. Modern societies, with the exception, perhaps, of the Scandinavian countries—generally protect the established interests by getting those interests off the hook through victim blaming. I suspect victim blaming is included in the official propaganda of almost every developed nation.
Undoubtedly, victim blaming is the consequence of the reification of nation-states. Countries, like sports teams, are worshiped as if they were gods or God. Such reification is, of course, promoted by those who have not yet become “victims.” Regarding one’s country or tribe as superior to all others, as God’s chosen land, is what sociologist Robert Bellah called “secular religion.”
The poor and working classes are not immune to this kind of secular religious fervor. Depression and self-loathing is often the consequence. More disturbingly, secular religious ideas such as victim blaming also entail the national desire to be militarily all powerful.
Impotence in one’s personal life is compensated by a vision of omnipotence for one’s reified tribal country. No wonder the atomic scientists have recently set the doomsday clock ahead to two minutes closer to midnight. The Dr. Strangeloves of the world must feel triumphant.
Richard Sahn is a Contrary Perspective regular and a professor of sociology.